Hill changes course on homeless, Torres-Hill gets funding
July 5, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill has altered his stance on solving the county’s homeless crisis, shifting from advocating for a new shelter to pushing for permanent housing. Hill’s stance has changed as his wife, Dee Torres-Hill, has transitioned from working for the agency building the shelter to running her own nonprofit that claims to house the homeless.
Torres-Hill’s nonprofit, the SLO Housing Connection, is now receiving local government funding for providing aid to the homeless and poor. SLO Housing Connection recently received $100,000 from the Grover Beach City Council, a body that has maintained close ties to Torres-Hill’s husband.
The Grover Beach council awarded the money, about $20,000 of which is due to go to staffing costs, even though SLO Housing Connection has disclosed no financial records and has failed to file tax exemption returns.
Prior to starting the SLO Housing Connection, Torres-Hill worked as the director of homeless services for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO). During Torres-Hill’s tenure with CAPSLO, Hill opposed a county plan to house certain homeless individuals and argued for directing more funds toward a shelter project. CAPSLO operates the primary homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo and, for years, has been fundraising for a new, larger shelter.
Currently, Hill touts himself as a big supporter of the county’s homeless housing program, which is known as 50 Now. At a county budget meeting last month, Hill called for crafting plans to acquire even more housing for the homeless. Hill also said the county needs to hold local homeless services agencies accountable to the federal “housing first” standard. If local agencies are not meeting the standard, the county should take away their funding and give it to different organizations, Hill said.
Hill did not mention his wife’s nonprofit, but some say the comments indicate the supervisor has a conflict of interest on the matter. When Torres-Hill worked for CAPSLO, Hill at times recused himself from votes on financial matters pertaining to the nonprofit. When asked if it is a conflict of interest for him to call for more county spending on housing for the homeless while his wife operates an agency that houses the homeless, Hill did not respond.
The supervisor changed his stance on homeless services soon after his wife had a falling out with CAPSLO. In 2012, coworkers accused Torres-Hill of making personal use of gift cards donated to CAPSLO for the needy and homeless. CAPSLO administrators later demoted Torres-Hill and cut her pay. Hill then publicly slammed CAPSLO management and has since shunned the organization.
While in the process of cutting ties with CAPSLO, Torres-Hill started SLO Housing Connection, a competing homeless services nonprofit. By fall 2014, Torres-Hill received a $50,000 donation from developer Gary Grossman. At the time, Hill was lobbying the San Luis Obispo City Council to vote in favor of a land use change that Grossman was seeking.
By May 2015, the entire SLO Housing Connection board of directors quit because Torres-Hill refused to take direction and was not following the nonprofit’s mission statement of housing the homeless, one former board member said. At the time, Torres-Hill had allegedly failed to provide permanent housing for any homeless individuals. Instead, Torres-Hill was spending the money on purchasing hotel rooms, the board member said.
Torres-Hill has refused to disclose who, if anyone, currently sits on SLO Housing Connection’s board. Nonprofits are required by law to have a board of directors.
This April, Torres-Hill received $100,000 in grant funding from the Grover Beach City Council. The council awarded SLO Housing Connection $40,000 for “eviction prevention” services and $60,000 for “rapid re-housing.”
A Grover Beach staff report defines eviction prevention as paying for up to three months the rent or mortgage, as well as utilities, for those at risk of homelessness. Rapid re-housing occurs when an agency pays the security deposit for a potential renter who is able to pay rent but cannot afford the deposit.
Most members of the Grover Beach council are politically allied with Hill. Four of the five council members have endorsed Hill in his current reelection campaign, and the fifth member of the council is a county employee. Hill recently dubbed Grover Beach Councilwoman Karen Bright one his biggest supporters. Also, Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals stood beside Hill when the supervisor announced his reelection campaign.
A few years ago, Hill gave Grover Beach Council members gold medallions prior to a vote on ousting then-mayor Debbie Peterson from a county board. During that meeting, Hill instructed council members to call him if they needed financial assistance for Grover Beach events and projects.
The proposal Torres-Hill submitted for the re-housing and eviction prevention funds stated 20 percent of the money would go to personnel costs. The proposal only lists one staff member, who would receive $25 per hour plus benefits. If the personnel costs remain 20 percent and Torres-Hill is the lone staffer, then $20,000 of the $100,000 granted by the Grover Beach council will go to Torres-Hill.
Also, Torres-Hill must spend all $100,000 by Sept. 30 because Grover Beach’s state grant expires the following day. It is unclear what city officials will do to track how the money is spent.
The Grover Beach Council approved the funding for SLO Housing Connection, even though the nonprofit has produced no records of its finances. Torres-Hill has refused to disclose the nonprofit’s tax exemption form, and a California Department of Justice Database says there are no available 990 forms for the nonprofit. Organizations that are exempt from paying taxes are required by the Internal Revenue Code to file yearly 990 forms, which disclose the agencies’ financial positions.
Even though Torres-Hill acknowledges having raised money, the state DOJ database lists SLO Housing Connection as having no revenue, no assets and no contributions.
Torres-Hill did not respond to recent requests for SLO Housing Connection’s 990 forms.
In addition to overlooking SLO Housing Connection’s financial irregularities, the Grover Beach Council approved a duplication of services. Both SLO Housing Connection and the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition received funding from the council for eviction prevention. The 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, which received two thirds of the funds, is an established organization in South County with a full staff.
In recent years, SLO County has ranked as one of the worst counties in the country in its handling of the homeless population. A 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report stated SLO County ranks third in the nation for the highest percent of homeless people who sleep unsheltered.
Until recently, SLO County’ efforts to help the homeless had centered around the construction of a new shelter and the expansion of a case management program, which required individuals to relinquish control of their income to nonprofit workers.
Torres-Hill claimed in the proposal she submitted to Grover Beach that SLO Housing Connection has housed 55 chronically homeless or underserved individuals. When asked for a list of the people her nonprofit has housed, Torres-Hill did not respond.